Rohtak Riots

Background

Rohtak is a small district 50 miles (80 km) west of the Indian capital of New Delhi. The city is also known as the Jat heartland for its dominant Jat population. The second biggest community in the district is [Hindu] Punjabis who migrated to Haryana after the Islamic state of Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947.  The Punjabis are primarily businessmen and live in the urban areas. They, notably, run the largest wholesale cloth market of Asia known as Shori market. The Jats primarily constitute the agrarian society and dominate the public institutions.  The traumatic memories of 1947 have kept Punjabis suspicious of Indian National Congress (“Congress”) and hence, their love for nationalist BJP is well known. The Congress is the Grand Old Party of India and hence, is deeply entrenched in the Jat social institutional bodies, namely, the Khap Panchayats and educational institutions. The Jats’ love for the nation and hence, joining the Indian army is well-known. The nationalist spirit is implicit in the culture of the city district. So much so that while Congress leaders outside Haryana support anti-India rallies while the Congress leaders in Haryana fight court battles for the right to display Indian flags.

The permanent undercurrent

There has always been a tense relationship between the Jat and the Punjabi communities. From labeling Punjabis as outsiders, Jhangis,  and at worst, Pakistanis, a “small” conservative section of Jat community has always found the idea of maintaining cordial relations with Punjabi community unpalatable. To the silent majority [of Jats], living with Punjabis is inconsequential – they have more important things to worry about in life. They have admiration for the Punjabi community in terms of the affluence they have built up after losing everything in 1947. While the undercurrent does lead to animosity from time to time but overall, the effect of it has been negligible. As someone who was born and grew up as a Punjabi in Rohtak, I had a lot of Jat friends. Only a few of them ever held any animosity against Punjabis. The vice-versa is true as well. The undercurrent, I believed and felt, was a dying one.

The elections of 2014

Compared to most states in the country, Haryana is a sleepy state as far as politics go. Political news from the neighboring states would dominate the news section. The ban on student unions could be a major cause of this. 2015 elections were a landmark because this was the first time the BJP came to power on its own. The idea of having a Punjabi Chief Minister whose parents came here empty-handed in 1947 did not bode well with the small albeit influential conservative section of the Jat community. No surprises that the Jat reservation leader Hawa Singh Sangwan referred to him as a Pakistani.

Riots of 2016

While Congress did lose the elections, its deep penetration within Jats is well-known. Using that penetration to create a ruckus in a BJP-led government is a deliberate one. An inexperienced Chief Minister, who is a first-time MLA and the 2017 UP elections where the BJP does not want to lose the Jat votes for has led to a sacrifice of Punjabi community of Rohtak in the process. At the risk of repeating myself, Rohtak is not Srinagar or Nagaland where anti-nationalists run amok – both the dominant communities are deeply nationalist. But now the city is under curfew, probably for the first time since my birth in 1987. The city is being ruled by rioters with non-Jat, primarily, Punjabi and other non-Jat owned businesses being deliberately targeted. The burning of Captain Abhimanyu’s house, Finance minister of Haryana, who is a Jat himself, is a symbolic one, the community has effectively disowned its most prominent leader in the ruling BJP government.

 

Violence exploded in Rohtak as Jat protesters demanding reservation in jobs and education. Also set fire to a minister's home, damaged property and burnt police vehicles. Mobs blocked highways and rail tracks. EXPRESS PHOTO BY GAJENDRA YADAV 19 02 2016.

The long-term effects

The dividing line between Jats and Punjabis were supposed to diminish over time. The communities have too much in common, from the same religion to similar food habits. These riots would leave deep scars and suspicion in the Punjabi community which after being questioned for its identity and threatened with riots was once forced to leave their paternal land in 1947. Two generations later, in the hindsight of Jat reservation, the uncomfortable question targeting their identity is being asked again.

Thoughts on Bureaucrats, Technocrats and Politicians

Bureaucrats take the actions which are justifiable (by book or by order of their superiors), they care less about consequences (in case there are multiple possible actions, they let the politician decide the appropriate action).

Technocrats take the actions which (according to their analysis) have best (long term/short term) consequences, they care less about how harsh the action could be on certain individuals and their logical thinking usually fails to take into account the law of unintended consequences like  Cobra Effect.

Politicians take the actions which are palatable and which are usually good for their (long term/short term, well, usually for next elections) popularity.

Till now, India was run primarily by politicians + bureaucrats, it seems to be transitioning towards politicians + technocrats.
It would be interesting to see the (short term/long term) consequences of this transition.

Note: The above statements are not my original discovery, I have read statements along similar lines at various sources.

Beyond Numbers: Dealing with terrorism in India

Let’s start with a small exercise.
Trying searching for the list of Sept 2011 victims or for the list of London Bombing victims.
In each case, more than half of the results on the first page lead to a list of names along with the photos and life stories of those people.
Now, trying searching for the list of Hyderabad blast 2013 victims, you would get a few results like this which lists the names of the people but where are their photos and life stories?

Try another search for a list of Mumbai attack 2008 victims, what do you get?  a partial list from Telegraph, another list of just names from two circles and mid-day.
One can try more such searches and the difference will be immediately obvious. As a nation, India has reduced the terror victims to numbers.
And that has lead to one of worst forms of desensitization towards terror attacks.

Few months back, women were on streets of New Delhi not because “one” woman was gang-raped (such “one”s happen just too often in the country/world) but because they were able to relate to the unfulfilled life story of “a girl born in a poor family whose father sold his land so that, she can study. And she dares to break the New Delhi’s norm of women not venturing after sunset.” As humans, we learn to relate to other humans based on their life stories.
Imagine this for a while, rather than reducing these deaths to numbers, what if media had instead written about the “engineer from a poor family background who got recently engaged”. I am making this up but such a real story won’t be impossible to find in say, Hyderabad blasts.

The lack of these stories acts as boon for anti-nationals like Arundhati Roy who write editorials supporting Afzal Guru (hanged for 2001 Parliament Attack) – notice the implicit life story of Afzal Guru in the article.
These anti-nationals are able to create well-articulated life stories of these victims to which people claiming to be liberal/open-minded/forward-looking relate to.
When we reduce victims to numbers, we don’t see them as humans any more, we don’t think about the difficulties their immediate family members have to bear. No wonder Narasimha Rao, ex-Prime Minister of India, once said, “It seems in this country only terrorists have human rights”. As India loses the intellectual battle against terrorism, it loses losing the real battle on the ground as well.
This also hits back India in international diplomacy since foreigners would know bad as well as good life stories (sometimes completely fictional) about the hanged terrorists but the terror victims will be reduced to numbers and forgotten.

If Govt. of India or Indian media can start compiling life stories of these victims, it can target all the above issues. Indians will become more sensitive towards terrorist attacks, anti-nationals will lose their clout and foreigners will know more about the lives of who died.

Book Summary: Imagining India by Nandan Nilekani

The book presents a generalists view of post-independent India. Unlike India Unbound, this book focuses primarily on post-independent India and takes a more pragmatic approach towards understanding the problems of contemporary India.  The best parts of the book are the interesting contradictions which the nation went through – love/hate relationship with the English language, fear of technology and neglected urban development.

Imagining India

Overall, the book is divided into four sets of ideas, that have arrived, that are in progress, that are still being debated and finally, that have yet to become part of public debate.

I have highlighted the best sections of the book in bold.

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BlackBerry Controversy in India

Indian Govt. has asked RIM (maker of BlackBerry smart phone) to provide access to the data going through its servers for intelligence purposes and it appears that BlackBerry has accepted the demands. Due to the lack of understanding of encryption on the part of Indian media, misleading and ambiguous reports have been published on the same. This blog post is an effort to clarify the same.
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